This week, I’ve been stuck on a bit of a Ben Gibbard kick. While he’s best known as the frontman of Death Cab For Cutie, he’s also released a number of great records in side projects and on his own. Stylistically, these projects cover a fairly wide sonic spectrum, with his voice tying everything together with his trademark sound. This week, I’m using the column to take a closer look at some of my favorite tracks from this non-Death Cab work. For me, these albums are generally more to my taste, so if you haven’t explored the other things Gibbard’s done, you should definitely take this as only a small sampling and dive into the rest of these records in the near future. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
1. “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” – The Postal Service
The 10-year anniversary of Give Up sparked me to listen to the record in full for the first time in about two years. While I immediately realized that I was really stupid for not listening to the album more frequently, I also came to the conclusion that “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” is still better than the rest of the record (this fact contributed to my habit of only listening to this song and a few others intermittently). I can see why “Such Great Heights” is the track that garners the most attention and has the greatest widespread appeal, but “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” is the one that really hits home for me. Jimmy Tamborello’s work is flawless on this track, from the beat to the tones he achieved to the glitchy accents that are reminiscent of orchestral string flourishes, and the backing vocals repeating “where I am” perfectly captures the exact feeling of focusing on one thing to avoid being consumed by the weight of something else. Gibbard’s lyricism and vocals elevate an already fantastic piece of music to something truly transcendent. All in all, this song easily makes my top two favorite things Ben Gibbard has ever worked on.
2. “Dream Song” – Benjamin Gibbard
Last year’s solo venture found Gibbard exploring a variety of different sounds. After the brilliant a cappella intro “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby,” “Dream Song” comes across as a huge uptick in sound, despite the song’s simple drums and acoustic strumming. The bass line sits perfectly in the mix, and the electric guitar accents make for a nice response to the vocals. Like the best of Ben’s past work, the song builds organically, with additional instrumentation and vocal harmonies filling out the sound. The harmonies leading into the piano solo live up to the song’s title, washing over you and fitting the song’s lyrical themes well. As the years go by, I’m more and more impressed by how great Ben’s voice is, and this song showcases it wonderfully. There aren’t crazy melismas all over the place, but there’s great clarity and expression in every note, and there’s a certain quality in his voice that pairs perfectly with his lyrics to amplify both to fullest potential. If you missed out on listening to Future Lives when it came out, now’s the time to change that.
3. “One Fast Move Or I’m Gone” – Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard
I’m probably in a very small minority here, but the collaborative tribute to Kerouac’s Big Sur is my favorite thing Ben Gibbard has ever released. I’m a fan of all of his projects, but the western-tinged twelve tracks that make up One Fast Move Or I’m Gone hit me hardest and always bring me back for more. The lyrics of the title track reflect upon movement – staying, leaving, and the consequences that come with each action. Lines like “the interstates, they don’t connect where you are to what you’ve left” are brilliantly composed, and the melody and presentation of the line “it’s one fast move or I’m gone” at the end of the chorus shows why it gives the song and album its name. The track meanders as its lyrics do, contemplative and mature with experience. This song is only a small taste of the masterpiece Gibbard and Farrar created, and I really can’t recommend listening to the rest strongly enough.